Motor Vehicle Registration Numbers

Registration Number

Vehicle Registration – or not 🙂

You’ve just bought a new car or motorbike and you’ve got to get it registered. Many of us like to get a vehicle registration number that we like, rather than a random string of alphanumeric symbols. Some countries allow personalised number plates that stay with the person, not the vehicle. Not so in Ireland, where the registration stays with the vehicle for life.

I like the Irish registration system because it’s both informative and simple, like me lol. Each vehicle is assigned a registration in a format like this “11 – D – 12345”. The “11” corresponds to the year of registration of the vehicle i.e. 2011. The “D” is the county where the vehicle was registered i.e. Dublin in this example. The “12345” is a unique number for that year for that county, beginning at “1” (for the first car of the year) and incrementing for each subsequent vehicle registration. So the first vehicle registered in Dublin in 2011 was 11-D-1, the 123rd registered in Dublin in 2011 was 11-D-123, and so on.

This system allows a person (e.g. prospective buyer) to know where and when a vehicle was registered. So by looking at a vehicle registration I know how old it is, and get an idea if it’s from the start of the year, or towards the end of the year. I also know where the vehicle is likely to have spent some of it’s life, and location is important for a few reasons:

  • Roads in Dublin tend to be better than country roads, so the average Dublin vehicle might have better tyres, wheels, suspension and shocks than a vehicle that spent it’s life bouncing through the potholes of County Cavan (“CN” is the county code for Cavan 😉 ).
  • Non-local vehicles can be targetted by thieves who may sniff the scent of holidaying or visiting shopping goodies in the boot. None more so than those country-folk (did I just say “country-folk”, wtf?) coming to Croke Park for football & hurling games. Aside: Lads bring your hurls and force the thieving scum into the Royal Canal, like “300”.
  • Another interesting phenomenon with this system, is “County loyalty“. I’m from Dublin (UP THE DUBS) and it’s a fact I have a strong preference for a “D” registered car or bike. In fact, it’s a show-stopper for me if the registration is not a “D” reg. All the cars and bikes I’ve bought are D reg. When it comes to county registration there are 27, but for me there are only 2 – that’s Dublin; and not-Dublin :p

Returning to the “when” a car was registered, there is another interesting phenomenon “Year envy“. Whether you’re into vintage or modern cars, age matters. On January 1st 2012, all those “11” cars are already so last year, even if they were registered in December 2011! Sellers, and more importantly buyers, are acutely aware of the crucial “year of registration”. One significant result of this phenomenon is massive variation in sales volume over the year. According to the Society of the Irish Motor Industry (SIMI) “nearly 50% of new cars are sold in the first quarter of the year” [1]. You can imagine the logistical, staffing, and (un)employment issues that variation creates. This “camel-hump” sales volume is a difficult beast to ride for motor retailers.

In their budget submission [1] SIMI have suggested a half-yearly addendum to the year of registration e.g. 121, and 122. This could help give a lot of new car sales in June, when the second half of the year starts, and it could help ease the January frenzy. Perhaps such a “twin camel-hump” will be easier for motor retailers to live with? But I’m not convinced it will help a great deal. It’s a bit reminiscent of children who insist they are not 5 years old, but 5 and a half years old, with particular emphasis on the “half”. But really, you’re 5, no-one except you cares about the half; but with children we indulge them. When I’m buying a second-hand car what I really care about is the year of registration, any sub-annual addendum is just that, an addendum.

Putting a different addendum for each month of the year would suffer the same fate e.g. 121, 122, 123, …, 1210, 1211, 1212. Really people would just the see the 12. Perhaps a better idea is to have the year of registration in Roman numerals, that way most people won’t have a clue what they’re looking at 🙂 We could also expect a glut of sales in 2030 as everyone wants to have an XXX registered vehicle 😀 However, 2040 might not do so well because no-one wants an XL registration, does my ass look big in this :O

SIMI have also suggested [1] introducing the ability to re-designate a vehicle in another county. At first glance as a consumer I could find that appealing – I can have any vehicle and I can still have my all-important “D” for Dublin (UP THE DUBS). But at second glance it comes at too high a price for me:

  • I’ll no longer be able to discern where a vehicle is likely to have lived it’s life – is that “D” reg original or is it a re-designated “CN” moon buggy with sagging suspension and shattered shocks?
  • The re-designated vehicles number e.g. “12345”will incrementally be higher than the last vehicle registered for that county that month. This means I’ll have no indication of when in the year the vehicle was registered.
  • The system could be open to ‘abuse’. If I buy a new vehicle in Cavan on January 1st 2012 I might have the registration 12-CN-1; but this doesn’t help my resale value. So when I go to sell a few years later, I re-designate the vehicle to Dublin where it’ll be assigned a “D” and a new much higher number e.g. 12-D-65000. This hides the fact my car was registered in January in Cavan, and gives the misleading impression the vehicle is from Dublin in December 2012. Not good. Paying customers want to know as much as possible about a vehicle by looking at it, and without having to do background checks on every potential vehicle purchase.


I don’t see an easy solution to the camel hump phenomenon of vehicle sales for those in the motor trade, at least none which is compatible with consumers interests. Those interests are that vehicle registration numbers should be both informative and simple; and I think that’s important for all consumers.

Perhaps with the advent of electric vehicles we can expect greatly increased longevity (except for the battery) in our vehicles, because there is less wear and tear with non-moving parts. But then, greatly increased longevity in vehicles doesn’t bode well for new vehicle sales either.



[1] SIMI launches Budget Submission – call for changes to registration plate


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